HONG KONG — President Joe Biden’s visit to Vietnam this weekend may be short, but it has major implications for American efforts to push back against China.
Vietnam, a one-party communist state bordering China, has emerged as one of the United States’ most important partners in Southeast Asia, a region that lies on the frontline of the competition between the world’s two largest economies.
Washington and Hanoi normalized relations in 1995, 22 years after the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War, and have been “comprehensive partners” since 2013. During Biden’s visit, the relationship is expected to rise two levels to “comprehensive strategic partner.” “, the highest level of diplomatic relations in Vietnam, putting the United States on the same level as China, Russia, India, and South Korea.
Alexander Foving, a professor at the Daniel K. Inouye of the Asia-Pacific Security Studies Center in Honolulu, the promotion represents a major diplomatic victory for the United States.
“It sends a message that the United States is able to attract many important countries in the region, even Vietnam, which is ruled by the Communist Party and is believed to be close to China,” he said.
China has gained influence in recent years across Southeast Asia, especially in countries such as Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, Fufeng said. He said improving relations between the United States and Vietnam “corrects to some extent the regional balance of power.”
Curt Campbell, the National Security Council’s coordinator for Indo-Pacific affairs, described Vietnam, a country of about 100 million people, as a regional “swing state.”
That’s partly because the United States and Vietnam “share a common commitment” to preventing Chinese dominance in Asia, Fueng said.
He said Vietnam wants to “take advantage of the Chinese market, and trade with China, but at the same time it wants to reduce its exposure to China.”
Vietnam is important to the United States economically and strategically.
Last year, it overtook Britain as the United States’ seventh-largest partner in goods trade, according to the institute’s report Census Bureau. Meanwhile, the United States is Vietnam’s largest export market.
The United States was also Vietnam The second largest source of tourists The National Tourism Agency reported last year after South Korea.
Vietnam, which was Asia’s fastest-growing economy last year, is seeking to become the next global semiconductor hub and has a growing electric vehicle industry. Vietnamese electric car maker VinFast It is now one of the world’s most valuable car companies after its US commercial debut last month saw its value rise beyond that of companies such as Ford and General Motors.
Vietnam has also become an increasingly important destination for US investments, especially as the US-China trade war prompts some US companies to relocate parts of their manufacturing operations.
“Vietnam will become an increasingly important link in the global supply chain,” said Le Hong Hiep, a senior fellow in Vietnam studies at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.
Washington, which lifted a ban on arms sales to Vietnam in 2016, sees it as a promising market for weapons and military equipment as Hanoi tries to reduce its dependence on Moscow.
Strategically, experts say, the United States sees Vietnam as an important partner in its efforts to counter China’s rise, especially its expansive claims in the South China Sea, a resource-rich waterway through which trillions of dollars in trade flow each year.
Matthew Pottinger, who served as deputy national security adviser in the Trump administration, said Biden’s quick trip to Hanoi was undoubtedly intended to send a signal to Beijing.
In an interview with NBC News, he said that the Biden administration, by strengthening relations with Vietnam, is “put pressure” on China.
“This shows that the administration understands what is happening here,” Pottinger said.
He added that in some ways, the United States has been an “ardent suitor” when it comes to China, and has sent a series of senior officials to Beijing in an attempt to improve relations.
The United States is also dating to torment the “eager suitor” metaphor, Pottinger said. “We’re trying to make that other side jealous, too.”
However, Heap said Biden’s visit to Vietnam is not just about China. He said the two countries have a “great interest” in working together on issues such as trade, investment, technology and climate change mitigation.
He said: “It is true that China has a role to play in all these developments, but it is only part of the picture.” “There are other, more important things in this evolving partnership.”
Hiep said that Hanoi and Washington are unlikely to mention China in relation to their evolving relationship, especially since Vietnam wants to maintain balance in its relations with the two powers.
China warned the United States against using its relations with individual countries in Asia to target a “third party.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Mao Zedong said: “The United States should abandon the zero-sum game and Cold War mentality, adhere to the basic norms governing international relations, refrain from targeting any third party, and avoid undermining peace, stability, development and prosperity in the region.” Ning said at a regular press conference in Beijing on Monday.
Advocacy groups urged Biden to use his visit to raise the issue of Vietnam Deteriorating human rights record And pressing for the release of more than 150 political prisoners.
Last year, the State Department added Vietnam to its Special Watch List for Religious Freedom Violations, as did the US Commission on International Religious Freedom He said in a report Tuesday, saying that although Vietnam has made some progress in the past decade, a recent crackdown on civil society and growing violations of religious freedom signal “a clear reversal in this previously positive trajectory.”
Heap said human rights appear to have taken a “back seat” amid US competition with adversaries such as China and Russia.
“The United States now appears to be prioritizing its strategic interests over considerations of value, so it has expressed interest in Vietnam’s human rights record, but it appears to be adopting a less critical approach,” he said.
Broader regional relations
There was some disappointment in the region that Biden, who arrived in India on Friday to attend the annual summit of the Group of 20 economies, chose to miss a meeting of Southeast Asian leaders in Indonesia this week after attending the event in Cambodia last year. Vice President Kamala Harris instead represented the United States at the annual 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, in what was her third visit to the region.
Chinese President Xi Jinping was expected to be absent from both events.
The White House denies that the Biden administration is insufficiently involved in the region, noting that last year Biden became the first president to host member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in the White House. The United States and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) also upgraded their relationship to a comprehensive strategic partnership at the Cambodian summit last year.
“I would argue that America’s commitment and our relationship with ASEAN and its member states have never been stronger,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs. He told reporters Thursday.
Heap said US engagement in Southeast Asia has improved in recent years, especially under the Biden administration. He pointed to Biden’s economic framework for the Indo-Pacific region, as well as efforts to strengthen relations with countries like the Philippines, which this year agreed to an expanded US military presence.
While the United States has the edge over China in most Southeast Asian countries when it comes to soft power and popularity, the region generally views China as the dominant economic power in Asia, according to a recent report. Comprehensive polling analysis It was issued last month by the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington.
The report warned that the economic influence gap is only widening in favor of China, which is the largest trading partner of all ten ASEAN member states and the largest investor for most of them. She added that growing regional concerns about China’s rhetoric and actions create opportunities for the United States to strengthen relations.
The report said: “Washington must present a positive political, security and economic agenda to confront this moment.”
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